Ridding the World of Ads: A Lesson from South Park

I have to come clean. I like watching South Park.

There, I said it!

Prior to this season, South Park has been purely one of my comedic reprieves for frustrations in current events, culture and politics. However, this season (Season 19) took on digital advertising and ad blocking, topics very near and dear to me.

AdBlocker - iStock_000076429955

Ultimately, the user experience is the primary reason for utilizing ad blockers to stop interruptive ads and improve site performance, according to research by Teads presented by AdWeek. Sites that have mass amounts of clutter, interstitials, click-baits, no clear distinctions between editorial and advertising, etc. ruin the experience for everyone. No longer can you peruse sites without being forced into a slideshow about the top beach resorts or the secret foods that will help you lose 10 pounds in 10 days. I get it! I totally get it! It is annoying.

However, ad blockers can act as a wall to block all tracking links, including Google Analytics tracking, social media buttons, content marketing and ecommerce functionality that would otherwise improve my experiences on the sites I frequent. And that’s the rub.

The recent exponential growth of these ad blockers has given publishers and businesses cause for concern on how, or if, to respond. AdBlock Plus, a leading ad blocker extension, reports more than 300 million downloads. And as of September 2015, iPhones and iPads became compatible with these extensions.

Publishers fear their ad revenue, which is crucial to the financial success of sites, will suffer greatly and some are beginning to fight back. So much so that The Washington Post locked content for those using ad blockers in September. Then, Forbes jumped on the train also adding consequences for ad blocker users in December. The majority of publishers do not have a plan for handling the rapid growth in ad blocker usage, per a recent survey by eMarketer. More than 83 percent of the respondents could not track or didn’t know if their company could track how much of their audience was using ad blockers.

Businesses are seeing a decline in their display advertising ROI and now even sponsored content marketing with tagging links, as well as Google Analytics metrics are suffering. Ad blockers prevent reaching a possibly engaged and interested customer base, all the while removing functionality from the user experience.

So what are our options for reaching our customer base in the age of ad blockers? First, consider the age-old adage “The customer is always right.” Ad blockers were created out of frustration to a poor user experience – cluttered sites filled with ambiguous distinctions between editorial and advertising, which lead to long page load times and extremely high data downloads (especially important in the mobile environment).  So the solution, at least in the short term, is to make sure the ads we place are as experience-friendly as possible. And you can do that by following these tips:

  1. Consider the creative of your current banners, as well as the placements. Is the animation overly intrusive instead of substantive? Will it be running in an intrusive place on the site?
  2. When running in placements that are more intrusive (i.e., welcome ads, interstitials, pre-roll), does the publisher allow users to skip the ad? This gives users control over their own experience.
  3. Strategically use targeting or retargeting platforms for digital advertising to deliver relevant content to users at a time and place in which they would be more receptive to the content.

The most basic takeaway is simple. Instead of combatting ad blockers, listen to user concerns and deliver an experience that is streamlined with the understanding that your audience is intelligent and well informed. This is the only sustainable counter-insurgency to a mass hysteria of ad blocker usage.

Hannah Woodham loves data. As digital strategy director at MCC, she specializes in seeing the numbers and translating them into a story on performance. She primarily works on the Texas Instruments account, but she also supervises the digital advertising process and implementation for other media accounts at MCC. Outside of work, Hannah spends time with her one-year-old son, two big hound dogs and her husband. You can often find her cooking up a storm in the kitchen, blasting Trampled by Turtles from her iPod dock, and using veggies and herbs from her homegrown garden. She considers these indulgences her “little break from the structure of her mind.” Follow on: LinkedIn

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